Fake accounts have undermined elections around the world, a former Facebook employee has claimed.
In an internal 6,600-word memo to her co-workers, data scientist Sophie Zhang said she made decisions “affecting national presidents” without oversight.
“I have blood on my hands,” she wrote in the memo, parts of which were published by Buzzfeed.
In response, Facebook said it was working hard to stop bad actors and unauthentic behavior.
In her memo, parts of which were published by Buzzfeed without her permission, Ms. Zhang said: “In the three years I have spent on Facebook, I have found numerous clear attempts by foreign governments to abuse our platform on a large scale. widespread to defraud their citizenship and caused international news on many occasions.
“I have personally made decisions that affect national presidents without oversight and I have taken action to enforce against so many globally prominent politicians that I have lost count,” she added.
It was reported by Buzzfeed, which said it had shared only those parts of its memorandum that were in the public interest, that Ms. Zhang rejected a $ 64,000 (49,000) severance package offered to her on the condition that she not shared her memorandum inside.
In response, Facebook said: “We have built specialized teams, working with key experts, to stop bad actors from abusing our systems, resulting in the removal of more than 100 networks for coordinated non-authentic behavior.
“It’s quite a lot of work involved that these teams do as their full-time task. Working against coordinated non-authentic behavior is our priority, but we’re also addressing the problems of annoying mail and fake engagement.
“We investigate every issue carefully, including those raised by Ms. Zhang, before taking action or going out and making claims publicly as a company.”
Examples of the work she refers to in her memo include:
- It took Facebook nine months to act on information about bots used to raise Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez
- In Azerbaijan, the ruling political party used thousands of robots to harass the opposition
- 10.5 million fake reactions and fans were removed by high-profile politicians in Brazil and the US in the 2018 elections
- A NATO researcher told Facebook he had seen Russian activity in a high-profile US political figure that Ms Zhang removed
- World accounts were discovered in Bolivia and Ecuador, but the issue was not given priority due to workload
- It found and removed 672,000 fake accounts operating against health ministries worldwide during the pandemic
- In India she worked to remove a sophisticated political network with more than 1,000 actors working to influence local elections in Delhi
“Facebook projects an image of power and competence to the outside world … but the reality is that many of our actions are weird strokes and random accidents.”
She said the fact that she had to make countless decisions for many different countries damaged her health and left her feeling responsible when civil unrest occurred in places she had not given priority to action.
Her revelations come just a week after former Facebook engineer Ashok Chandwaney accused the firm of profiteering hatred.
tweet“The speed and scale of the damage that Facebook is doing to democracies around the world is truly appalling.”
By Marianna Spring, specialist misinformation reporter
This explosive memo confirms concerns that have long been raised about Facebook’s ability to handle foreign interference and disinformation campaigns.
But while most eyes have been on Russian interference in American politics after the 2016 election, the testimony of this former employee turns his attention to democratic events beyond the West.
Facebook’s failure to tackle misinformation in other languages has been under scrutiny during the pandemic – and this new information claims that it has struggled to tackle intervention campaigns in non-English-speaking nations before.
The memorandum also raises major concerns about the great responsibility given to the new Facebook moderators – whose decisions could affect democratic events, political outcomes and people’s lives globally.
This will undoubtedly raise concerns about Facebook’s work to tackle intervention and disinformation campaigns as the upcoming US elections approach. But it should remind us that Facebook plays a role in democratic events outside the US.
- Fake News
- Social media
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